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The Adorably Creepy (and a Little Bit Racist) Skeleton Cartoons of Dr. Crusius

Categories: Arts

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Washington University School of Medicine
January and February.
In an age when advertising was still a novel way to introduce customers to your product, the St. Louis-based Antikamnia Chemical Company printed whimsical calendars featuring morbid-yet-fascinating sketches of skeletons acting out everyday life.

The company's name, Antikamnia, means "opposed to pain," and it produced a patented fever reducer and pain reliever at the turn of the 20th century. Sure, the medicine was technically toxic and made your skin turn blue, but that just makes the skeleton illustrations even more apt.

When the owners of Antikamnia Chemical Company were looking for an artist to illustrate their advertising calendars, they settled on fellow St. Louis College of Pharmacy graduate Louis Crusius, who used his drug-store windows to display the sketches he drew in his free time. Crusius dressed his skeletons in the clothes of the time and gave them funny little sayings or titles, keeping his illustrations lighthearted despite their macabre subjects.

See also: County Executive Dooley Says St. Louis Post-Dispatch Political Cartoon of Him is Racist

These rare images -- taken from the 1898 calendar and published online by the Bernard Becker Medical Library at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine -- are also interesting for their occasional and unfortunately racist angle.

The September-October cartoon, featuring a threadbare man with a can of tomato juice tied around his waist and the caption "A Prodigal's Return," plays on racial stereotypes of Irish immigrants, according to Washington University. The November-December image, featuring Uncle Rufus telling Professor Johnson in patios how he's misunderstood a doctor's orders, is based on black racial stereotypes.

Crusius graduated from the St. Louis College of Pharmacy in 1882 and co-owned the drug store Scheel and Crusius at the corner of 14th Street and Clark Avenue with his brother-in-law Gustav Scheel. After graduating from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1890, he worked as a doctor and lecturer until he died in 1898 at 35 years old from a renal cell carcinoma discovered during an operation.

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All images courtesy of Becker Medical Library, Washington University School of Medicine
March and April.

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May and June.

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July and August.

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September and October.

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November and December.

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at Lindsay.Toler@RiverfrontTimes.com.

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8 comments
Nikolas Mathew K
Nikolas Mathew K

Irish is a race you dipshit. Race does not solely refer to the color of your skin; unless you're talking about nowadays where ignorant people try to sound intelligent. Try a dictionary.

Elyse Vesser
Elyse Vesser

Ryan Masters you're probably an ignorant old white dude. How exactly is what I said racist at all? I'm simply calling out the difference between race and ethnicity, and thus the very difference experiences that African American people have faced in America (racism) vs what that Irish immigrants faced (prejudice, stereotypes). Go back to college and take a fucking sociology class. Also, another clarification: I'm both of Irish descent and White. Just telling it like it is.

Kelli Mayahi
Kelli Mayahi

Tell her like it is Ryan Masters;) Teeheehee

Ryan Masters
Ryan Masters

Elyse Vesser, you sound more racist than anything in that link. Go sit down somewhere.

Elyse Vesser
Elyse Vesser

Just to clarify: while the portrayal of the black racial stereotype in the ad is undoubtedly racist, the irish depiction is not. Irish is not a "race" (it's an ethnicity). And Irish natives are white (which is their race), meaning that they have most likely actually experienced privileges or have benefited in some way from having white skin. They have not experienced racism. Although they make have experienced discrimination for being Irish immigrants, I believe the word you're looking for is prejudice.

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